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Sep 15, 2003  •  Post A Comment

Judge Upholds Order That Vivendi Pay Messier

In a setback for Vivendi Universal in its legal battle with deposed Chairman Jean-Marie Messier, a New York state judge denied the French conglomerate’s request to dismiss an arbitration panel’s order that Vivendi pay $23.5 million in severance to Mr. Messier.

Meanwhile, France’s stock-market regulator has completed its probe into the company’s financial disclosures under Mr. Messier and is concluding the company intentionally tweaked some of its numbers, according to a Wall Street Journal report.

The court ruling, which came late last week but wasn’t announced until Monday, is the latest chapter in a string of legal tussles between Paris-based Vivendi and Mr. Messier, who was ousted as chairman in July 2002 after a spate of acquisitions under his leadership brought the company nearly to bankruptcy.

Mr. Messier has alleged that Vivendi’s board agreed as part of the terms of his removal as chairman to pay him the severance payment. Vivendi has countered that the payment was never approved by the board, and thus was invalid. Both parties agreed to present their case to a three-member arbitration panel in New York, and the panel ruled in Mr. Messier’s favor. Vivendi challenged the ruling in New York State Supreme Court.

Concurrently, the French stock market regulator La Commission des Operations de Bourse (COB), weighed in on the matter, saying that Vivendi’s shareholders should be given the chance to vote on whether to make the severance payment to Mr. Messier.

Meanwhile, the COB late last week wrapped up its investigation into financial disclosures at Vivendi under Mr. Messier and is seeking comment from Vivendi, which said in a statement that it has three months to comment. The company also said it is committed to cooperating with the COB in its probe.

The Wall Street Journal article, citing sources familiar with the COB report, said the regulator determined that the company tweaked the financial statements, but stopped short of accusing the company of fraud. The COB also inquired about share sales by Mr. Messier and other former Vivendi executives that were completed at the end of 2001, just before the company sold a large block of treasury stock-a sale that triggered a sharp drop in Vivendi’s share price.

The results of the probe were turned over to Paris prosecutors, who are the only ones with the authority to pursue a legal remedy. Those same prosecutors are already involved in their own investigation of Vivendi, as are federal prosecutors in the United States and the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

The COB declined to discuss its findings, and will not do so unless Vivendi is fined.

Jessica Lynch to Appear on ‘Letterman’: Rescued prisoner of war Jessica Lynch will appear on the “Late Show With David Letterman” on Friday, Nov. 14, on CBS. Ms. Lynch was captured in Iraq in March when her U.S. Army unit was ambushed. She was rescued a week later by U.S. Special Forces from an Iraqi hospital. Ms. Lynch’s biography “I Am a Soldier, Too: The Jessica Lynch Story,” written by Rick Bragg, is scheduled to be published in November.

Petruzzi Named Turner PR VP: Turner Broadcasting System on Monday said it has hired Salvatore Petruzzi as VP of public relations, responsible for the Turner Broadcasting Sales unit. He will be based in New York, working closely with David Levy, president of entertainment sales and president of Turner Sports, and with Greg D’Alba, executive VP and chief operating officer of CNN advertising sales and marketing.

Mr. Petruzzi joins Turner from A&E Networks, where he was director of public affairs and communications for cable channels A&E and The Biography Channel and the A&E corporate parent. Before that, he was a VP and senior account executive at public relations firm Dan Klores Associates, representing clients such as ESPN, Showtime and the National Basketball Association.

Kiernan Named WCCO News Director: Viacom-owned CBS affiliate WCCO-TV in Minneapolis-St. Paul named Jeff Kiernan to its vacant news director spot.

He joins from Journal Broadcast-owned NBC station WTMJ-TV in Milwaukee, where he served as

news director for eight years. He starts Oct. 6 and replaces Maria Reitan, who left at the end of August. WTMJ-TV ranked seventh in 55 metered markets and fourth in NBC metered markets for its late local news in May 2003, said WCCO-TV.

WCCO-TV has undergone a number of changes recently. New General Manager Ed Piette joined earlier this summer from Hubbard Broadcasting-owned ABC affiliate KSTP-TV, St. Paul.

HBO Orders Porn Documentary: HBO has announced “Pornucopia: Going Down in the Valley,” a six-part documentary series that will examine the pornography industry in California’s San Fernando Valley.

The series will be produced by Dan Chaykin and examine how adult entertainment is produced, distributed, marketed and consumed. “Pornucopia” will debut on HBO in 2004.

Comedy Central Renews “Reno 911”: Comedy Central has ordered a second season of its police parody “Reno 911.” The second season of the Jersey Television production will debut in summer 2004 with 13 new episodes.

The half-hour comedy is created by and stars Robert Ben Garant, Kerri Kenney and Thomas Lennon as cops patrolling Reno, Nevada.

Hair Named Executive VP of CNN: CNN on Monday named Princell Hair as executive VP and general manager of CNN/U.S., replacing Teya Ryan, who stepped down to pursue opportunities outside the cable news channel. He reports to Jim Walton, president of CNN News Group, and will be based at CNN’s Atlanta headquarters.

“Princell brings to his new role demonstrated expertise as a newsroom executive and gifted leader,” Mr. Walton said. “His skills will mesh perfectly with those of the seasoned executive team in place at CNN.”

Mr. Hair arrives at CNN from Viacom, where he was VP of news for the Viacom Television Stations Group, overseeing news coverage across Viacom’s stable of television stations, including 16 CBS owned-and-operated stations, four satellite CBS stations, 18 UPN-affiliated stations and one independent station.

Before that, Mr. Hair was news director at KCBS-TV in Los Angeles and earlier at WBAL-TV in Baltimore, where he shepherded the station’s 5 p.m., 6 p.m. and 11 p.m. newscasts each to No. 1, according to CNN. Before his arrival in Baltimore, Mr. Hair was a news director at WMAQ-TV, an NBC owned station in Chicago and held several producer positions at stations in Miami, Detroit, Chicago and Orlando, Fla.

John Ritter Tribute Set for Primetime Emmys: Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Chairman and CEO Bryce Zabel promises a beautiful Emmys send-off for John Ritter, who died last week.

In the pressroom during Saturday’s Primetime Creative Arts Emmys, Mr. Zabel announced that the 55th Annual Primetime Emmys on Sunday, Sept. 21 will add to its program a tribute that reflects upon Mr. Ritter’s career. “We are in the process of planning a tribute for John that I can only promise will be presented in a very respectful and appropriate way,” Mr. Zabel said.

Mr. Zabel commented on the shock felt by the television community after Mr. Ritter’s sudden death. “I think that people are wondering where it came from and I think that everyone feels like they have lost a very dear friend,” Mr. Zabel said. “I don’t think that there is anyone who doesn’t feel like they knew him as a friend from TV.”